There are too many unique factors in any given personal injury case to create a formula for accurately valuing a neck injury claim. But this article discusses the main considerations to keep in mind when you are attempting to put a dollar value a neck injury. We'll start with some examples of real-life verdicts and personal injury settlements involving neck injuries of varying severity to establish some context.
“Valuing” a case in this context means coming up with a best guess at what a jury might award the person suing for a neck injury (the plaintiff), and then estimating 1) what the person being sued (the defendant) would be willing to pay, and 2) what the plaintiff would be willing to accept, to settle the case before trial (depending on which side is doing the valuation.)
The two big factors in valuing a personal injury case are the extent of the plaintiff’s damages -- how bad the neck injury is, in other words -- and how likely the jury is to find the defendant liable.
Neck injuries range from minor strains and sprains, to whiplash and even neck fractures. The more severe and long-lasting the injury, the greater the compensation in a personal injury insurance settlement or jury verdict. Additionally, “hard” injuries like a fractured bone (cervical fracture in the case of a neck injury) tend to result in larger settlements than soft tissue injuries like whiplash or pinched nerve (cervical radiculopathy). To get an idea of how an insurance company views the severity of your injury, see Valuing the Nature and Extent of Your Injuries.
Many insurance companies will base their settlement value of your injury on the nature and cost of the medical treatment your injury requires. A neck injury requiring spinal fusion or another type of surgery will necessitate a larger settlement payment compared to a strained neck requiring only a brace as treatment. Further, injuries requiring treatment by physicians – as opposed to chiropractors, or even physical therapists – are viewed by many insurance adjusters as “more serious”. For more on this, see The "Right" Medical Treatment Increases the Settlement Value of an Injury Claim.
Estimating the potential recovery with any degree of accuracy is quite difficult for one main reason: at trial, it will most likely be a jury that ultimately decides just how much money the defendant must pay the injured plaintiff.
Some damages, like medical bills and lost wages, are easier to predict because they will mostly be based on the amount the plaintiff demonstrates he or she has paid and/or will continue to pay.
For subjective, less concrete damages like “pain and suffering,” predictions are at best an educated guess based on awards in similar neck injury cases in the past. Because every case and every jury is different, even the best analysis will still only predict pain and suffering damages within a broad range.
What is also key in valuing damages is how the neck injury affects a particular plaintiff. For example, if the plaintiff is an avid violin player, but can no longer hold the violin properly because of the neck injury, his damages based on “loss of quality of life” will likely be higher in the eyes of a jury than if he could still pursue all his hobbies.
Similarly, if a plaintiff had a preexisting neck injury, his damages might be reduced because it is more likely that the defendant’s acts were not entirely responsible for all of the plaintiff's pain and suffering.
The other major factor in valuing a case is the likelihood a defendant will be found liable at trial. If the plaintiff has little or no evidence proving the defendant was at fault for the plaintiff’s neck injuries, the value of the case goes down considerably.
Even if the potential damages are high, a defendant will be less willing to settle and more inclined to take her chances at trial. Similarly, the plaintiff will be more inclined to accept a low settlement because he runs the risk of getting nothing at trial.